Scholarly Dispute Reconciled

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Publication Date: 2/6/2008

Rhodes Religious Studies professor Ryan Byrne recently made international headlines by correcting an interpretation error by a leading Israeli archaeologist.

Dr. Eilat Mazar, who is supervising a dig outside the Old City walls of Jerusalem, reported to the media that she had discovered a 2,500-year-old black stone seal from Babylon with the name "Temech" engraved on it. As Dr. Mazar told the Jerusalem Post, "The seal of the Temech family gives us a direct connection between archeology and the biblical sources and serves as actual evidence of a family mentioned in the Bible…One cannot help being astonished by the credibility of the biblical source as seen by the archaeological find."

Professor Byrne was less astonished. In fact, he said, Dr. Mazar appears to have read the inscription backward. Stamp seals were engraved with inverted words, so that the script would appear in the correct direction when pressed into clay bullae to seal documents. Instead of Temech, the seal reads Šlomit, a different Hebrew name, which (since it is sometimes female) might indicate that the owner of this precious status object was a woman of high social standing. Byrne also questioned the relic’s date and place of manufacture.

After a period of scholarly discussion, Dr. Mazar revised her description of the seal.

Byrne co-directs the archaeological excavations at Tel Dan in northern Israel, where (among other finds) an inscription bearing the oldest reference to King David was discovered. For more information, see http://teldan.wordpress.com/.